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Olympics as Prelude

September 2nd, 2016 by dk

Oregon track coach and Track Town USA president Vin Lananna described his August this way: “I’m not sure there’s been anything quite as rewarding or exciting or as tiring as the Olympic Games. Quite honestly, it was fantastic.”

Not yet, anyway.

Nobody involved in the Rio games will say that it was a good prelude, but that’s what Eugene is starting to feel. The best is yet to come. Many top athletes have already set their training clocks to Tokyo time, aiming for better performances at the 2020 Olympics. Coach/impresario Lananna, the city of Eugene and University of Oregon are all looking one year further — to hosting the World Championships in 2021.

Every “spit and shine” detail across the region is pointing toward that singular horizon. Ask any painter how they organize everything on their canvas and they’ll tell you a secret that works for life beyond the palette. A common vanishing point keeps everything in perspective. But let’s not focus so much on 2021 that we don’t pause for a moment to enjoy 2016.

Lananna was taking notes to optimize the athletes’ experience of Hayward Field in 2021, but that didn’t distract from the task at hand. Team USA dominated the Track and Field medal haul, winning 13 gold medals and 32 medals overall.

But Oregon’s influence was deeper and wider than that. Alberto Salazar’s training methods are no longer considered controversial. “Oregon Project” protege Galen Rupp finished his second marathon ever with a bronze medal. His Portland training partner Mo Farah took two distance-running gold medals, but those wins are credited to his home country of Great Britain.

Ducks seemed to be everywhere, bringing home about a dozen medals. Devon Allen made it to the finals in the 110 hurdles, finishing fifth. (Imagine Allen’s UO classmates trying to match his summer vacation stories.) He’s already looking ahead to 2020: “I kind of accomplished that Olympic dream, obviously. In four years, I want to win a gold medal, so that’s one more step to that dream.”

The planning horizon looks different for Eugene’s ultimate power couple, Ashton Eaton and Brianne Thiesen-Eaton. They’ve added to their family mantle another gold medal for the men’s decathlon, plus a bronze in the women’s heptathlon.

They are looking ahead to another challenge of a different sort. They are planning to start a family. There’s no reason to believe they won’t build their parenting skills with the same vigor and commitment they’ve demonstrated in everything else they’ve done together.

I once ended up sitting behind these two on a quick flight to San Francisco. I saw Eaton texting his mother before the cabin door shut. They snuggled a bit with the arm rest lifted between them. They dropped what they were doing to listen to the safety announcements. When Eaton looked behind him to locate the nearest exit, that’s when I knew he was different from the rest of us.

Some of his success comes from good coaching, but following directions shows a measure of character that cannot be invented. It’s one thing to be the best. It’s something else to carry it with such grace.

Eaton caught some flack from fans for wearing a Canada hat while cheering his wife’s efforts. Online trolls accused him of being a traitor, cheering for any athlete not representing the USA — even his Canadian wife.

Eaton didn’t back down, taking to Twitter: “Have I not represented USA well? Yet u demand more. Ur respect is hard earned. I support the country that produced my wife; who ru2 shame me?”

And then, the ever-reasonable but devoted husband claimed the high road in a follow-up tweet: “Are your grandparents from another country? Will your grandchildren be? What then? Hopefully you’ll adopt a more reasonable view.”

We should all be glad these two want children. By the time their Ducklings are running, skipping and jumping, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk or others may be looking for volunteers to start colonizing Mars. The Eatons would be perfect candidates. Just when world domination has been completely achieved, more worlds emerge to be conquered.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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